Founded in 1989 by business partners Sharon Hunter and Maurice Bryham, PC Direct came to dominate the personal computer market throughout the 1990’s, becoming an iconic New Zealand brand of that era.
In a market that was previously dominated by American multi-nationals like IBM, Compaq and Apple, PC Direct gained significant first mover advantage and carved out considerable domestic market share and multi-million dollar revenues. The company went on to win awards for best personal computer, best customer service, and numerous marketing awards. It was a heady time for a couple of young entrepreneurs (22 and 23 years of age respectively) cutting their teeth on their first venture.
As is so often the case, the light bulb moment for the PC Direct founders occurred when working within the traditional distributor/dealer industry model that they would later turn on its head. Lamenting the lack of quality computer retailers in New Zealand they determined that there had to be a better way.
And there was – the PC Direct way.
Consumer focused, market savvy and agile, PC Direct revolutionised the computer industry’s traditional path to market enabling significant cost to be removed from the supply chain. For the first time, computers were accessible to the burgeoning home and small office user, marking the beginning of rapid growth and a technology revolution.
The PC Direct premise was simple – high quality computers supplied direct to market with world class customer service. Strip away the traditional multi-layer margins and get new technology to market cheaper and faster than the large cumbersome American brands.
And PC Direct represented more than great technology at unbeatable prices. It was an ethos of service and knowledge not previously witnessed in the industry. Lifeguard Customer Support became a recognisable brand of its own and re-defined what customer service looked like. And it was all achieved with the team barely in their twenties. To achieve their vision Maurice and Sharon employed young men and women with a passion for computers and groomed them as the bench-mark of New Zealand’s computer industry.
It wasn’t only the home and small business user who scrambled for PC Direct computers. University students, retail shop owners, Hoteliers, trade suppliers, authors and even Government Departments (Police, Education and Research Institutions) all sought the highly acclaimed home-grown computers. PC Direct placed high quality computers, backed by the industry’s best customer service, within their reach. Within two short years the company was supplying hundreds of computers to the NZ Market.
In 1995, while still expanding rapidly, the company took on growth capital from private equity firm Direct Capital partners. The investment enabled the company to build a world class computer assembly facility in Albany, Auckland. It was a striking example of just-in-time manufacturing, enabling the company to customise PC Direct computers to customer’s requirements while managing the high volumes of orders for computers, printers, software and acceccories.
Then in early 1998, Blue Star Group approached the Directors with an acquisition offer. Later that year, PC Direct was sold to Blue Star Group’s parent, Nasdaq listed, US Office Products for $28 million.
Then in 2000, the company was on-sold to Gateway Computers and within 18 months of acquiring PC Direct, Gateway had withdrawn from New Zealand. On 28 August, 2001, Gateway announced that it would immediately close its operations in Singapore, Malaysia, Japan, Australian and New Zealand as part of a restructuring move to save US$300 million annually.
And the company started by two Kiwi kids twelve years earlier, that became an iconic New Zealand brand, went too.